Do you remember the first time you encountered someone whose perception of her body was not in line with culture in the best way? The first time you met someone who lived in radical freedom, acceptance, or abundance as it pertains to her body? Did you notice another mother playing hard on the beach with her kids without seeming concerned about her stretch marks? Maybe you took a fitness class from an instructor who didn’t fit the stereotype but who never made apologies for her body or let shame take up any space. Maybe while growing up you had a friend who grew quiet when the other girls in your group began criticizing their bodies because she refused to take part in such a ritual.
I regret to say that even now, as I write, I’m scanning my memories, having a hard time picking more than a few people from my past. We could all tell stories of the women and men who had a negative impact on our lives, shocking us with their personal beliefs about the body.
For me, there was the incredibly wise and wild woman who discipled me in college, but who also encouraged me to go on an extremely low-carb diet. Or the pastor who noticed I had gained a significant amount of weight and told me it looked like my heels were going to snap under the pressure of my body. Once, we moved to a church to help a pastor, and the leadership team offered both my husband and me a diet program as a welcome gift. “Thanks for coming to help our church. Please only eat 600 calories a day for the next twenty-one days.”
If I’m incredibly honest, most of the truly impactful voices in my life have had this one flaw: they have neither agreed with nor promoted a Kingdom mentality when it comes to the body. Cultural conformity has been the ideal, and in the worst cases, living up to that ideal has been cast as a form of righteousness. In the bulk of my experiences with others, there hasn’t been a desire to break free from shame, either. Rather, shame has been welcomed as a tool to help our bodies continually become better.
Along came Lily. Lily was a voice that cut through the crazy to say something true and affirming and wildly encouraging. I was a few years into the process of no longer just accepting my body or even celebrating it, but trying with everything I had to view it in light of God’s Kingdom. I was trying to grasp that my body was fallen and broken, yet full of potential and promise. I was trying to embrace the body God had given me, and I had definitely begun to give up on ever being anyone else’s ideal body type.
And so, one day, I wore high-waisted jeans. Some women with my particular shape may avoid high-waisted jeans or, particularly, high-waisted jeans with a shirt tucked in, which puts your shape on display. It’s the old, “I can’t wear _______________,” or “_________________ just doesn’t look good on my body” argument that many of us live with and throw around. High-waisted jeans with a shirt tucked in “should” be avoided (I’m getting angry just typing that) by women with my body type — but I was over the “shoulds,” so I did what I wanted to do.
Lily came over a few days after I’d worn some high-waisted jeans to church. We were catching up on her life and her eventual plans to move to Paris. Lily was so cool. So wild. So in love with God. Just before she left, she looked at me with the beginnings of tears in her eyes and said, “Thanks for wearing high-waisted jeans. Seeing you love your body makes me love my body. Seeing you worship in your body makes me want to worship in my body when I come to church.”
I was stunned and blessed beyond measure. At that early point in my own journey, no one had really noticed the outward shifts I was making as my heart changed inwardly. No one had seen my high-waisted jeans as the freedom cry that they were. No one had mirrored back the love I was beginning to allow myself to feel toward myself, toward my body. There stood Lily — one of the first harbingers of hope in the battle. It wasn’t a lighthearted cry of body positivity, and it wasn’t the willful determination to not notice our own figures — it was something deeper and more intentional that she reflected back to me.
It was deep-seated, God-glorifying goodness. Lily saw that I agreed that I was made in the image of God. She saw me naming my thighs and my lower half as a blessing and not a burden. She stood in agreement with me, adopting the freedom for herself as well.
Together, for a split second, we were our own community of freedom fighters, sharing this sacred and worshipful agreement: our bodies were good.
I’ve had that same moment of exhilaration a handful of times since then. I find that even when we’re open and comfortable sharing with other women about our bodies, it almost takes a miracle to get to a shared agreement that our bodies are good. We’re all on different pages, we have different experiences and stories, and it takes patience and the stripping away of layers of vulnerability to let down our collective guards and make agreements that are rooted in truth.
As precarious as it can be, together is the way forward, conversation is the conduit of this Kingdom mentality, and we can start together. Right here. All of us. Today.
Excerpted with permission from Breaking Free from Body Shame by Jess Connolly, copyright Jessica Ashleigh Connolly.
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Are you ready? Your body is good! Your body is built for worship in whatever kind of clothing! Right? Come on and join a whole new mentality. Let’s do this together! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full